West Point leaders reluctant to discuss how police handled gathering in neighborhood
City leaders have been reluctant to speak about an intentional power outage in the area of East 9th Street that was ordered by city officials in response to an apparent block party that happened on Sunday, Sept. 5, they deemed was getting out of hand.
West Point Police Chief Donald Britt declined to comment, referring to a statement released by City Manager Ed Moon on Tuesday. The topic also wasn’t brought up during the city council work session on Thursday evening.
According to the statement from Moon, the City of West Point Police Department dealt with an unpermitted gathering in the area of East 9th Street Sunday evening.
“At approximately 8 p.m., the gathering was blocking city streets with parked cars and pedestrians and more people were entering the area,” the statement said.
“The situation was deemed unsafe by police department personnel due to the inability for emergency services to respond to assist and the presence of unlawful activities. It was of great concern that someone would be injured if the crowd continued to grow.”
The statement says that the police department declared a state of emergency and asked the utilities department to cut off power to the main area of the event.
The utilities department did so, according to the statement, affecting about 35 structures at about 8:45 p.m. The statement said the power was off for 50 minutes.
“The city apologizes for any inconvenience that this outage caused to the residents in the area,” the statement said.
“While this action did assist in dispersing the crowd, more consideration should have been given to the impact of the outage on the local residents.”
Typically, West Point Day is held every year around Labor Day and results in big crowds. The VTN has reached out to past organizers of this event, who said they had nothing to do with this year’s event due to COVID-19.
It’s unclear how large the crowd was Sunday night, but Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart said his agency was asked for assistance. CCSD used their helicopter overhead to see the crowd, which they described as large.
It’s unclear if a permit was required for an event that large, or if one was issued. Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff said they were asked to send two units to stand by, but that was the extent of their assistance.
Allegedly sick with COVID-related pneumonia, one of the residents whose power cut off, Aniya Cofield, said she was dependent on an electrically-powered oxygen machine at the time, according to her husband, Henry Cofield IV.
Henry said he had to call an ambulance to bring her another oxygen tank, and it took about 20 minutes for it to arrive.
Henry said he and Aniya are going to hire a lawyer to represent them in a possible case against the city. He said he doesn’t know if he’ll be compensated for the ambulance bill, if he gets one.
“I don’t know if I’m getting a bill,” he said, referring to the ambulance he had to call.
“I ain’t received no bill yet, but I’m pretty sure I am because every time you call 911 for an ambulance, you get a bill.”
Louise Billingslea is another resident who said her power was cut off. She said she didn’t think it was a good idea on the part of the police.
“It wasn’t right because there’s a lady on the next street up there — she’s on oxygen,” Billingslea said. “They should not have cut it off.”
Billingslea said there was another sick person in the area besides Aniya.
Neighborhood resident Joshke Ross said he had relatives whose power was cut off during the incident.
“I’ve got another uncle who stays beside that house,” Ross said. “His power got cut off. Everybody on this street — my granddaddy’s power was cut off. Everybody on this side of the street, their power was cut off.”
Ross said he had “no idea” why the police department had the power turned off and didn’t think it was a good idea.
He said the gathering was organized by many people.
“It’s a group thing. We do it every year. We’ve done it every year since 2017. And we’re going to always do it, the day before Labor Day. Every Sunday before Labor Day, we always come out here and we grill out, give away free food.”
Ross said he wouldn’t even call the event a gathering, explaining that it was mainly people from the area who participated.
“We didn’t have no violence, even when they turned the lights off,” he said.
“We still didn’t have anybody getting out. Not one argument, no violence, nobody had pulled a gun out this time, this year. It was great.”
According to Ross, a law enforcement officer came by briefly and then left, not finding any trouble.
“He came down before it got dark and got out because he knew some of the guys,” Ross said.
“He got out, he walked around, he spoke to a few guys, looked to see that nothing wasn’t really going on … and he left and didn’t come back.”